A small bird slammed hard into my big kitchen window yesterday, landing on its back in the flowerpot below, wings splayed, dazed. I went to it and scooped it gently into my hands and sat on the porch steps. Its eyes were open but the left one was squinting. Must’ve hit on that side. Cradling it in my cupped hand I let it rest, feeling the ball of so much heat radiating from its little body into my palm. I felt a kindred. It closed its eyes and began to doze off.
Then I thought of concussions and that sleep can be fatal, so I began to gently move the bird to roust it, opening its eyes again. We sat on the porch for twenty minutes or so then I thought this may take a while, and decided to place the bird in a basket on my patio table. It would be safe, and would have to take the chance that though it may sleep, it will be all right.
I watched it through the window as I worked inside. It stayed on the cushion I had put in the basket for another hour. I’d go out to check and it would open its eyes, but not move. Another hour passed and I looked, it had moved to perch on the edge of the cushion, but I noticed it was a little wobbly. Not wanting to disturb it I watched closer through a pair of compact binoculars from the kitchen window. Although it was standing, it was still dozing off, dipping its head down.
Eventually I went out and quietly sat in the chair beside the patio table and observed the little bird, still perched, for several minutes. Its eyes were open now but made no attempt to move. I began to think maybe this little bird will never fully recover, that there may be brain damage. Forget how to fly, how to find food.
I went back in to get my sketch book, thought it’s not often one has a live bird this close and still, and sat by the bird again. It was looking more alert now. I began to draw, just getting its initial shape down before it suddenly flickered away off and up into the nearby bushes.
Leaving me fascinated by that little creatures resiliency after a hard blow. A human would not have fared so well I think. Leaving me wishing the bird well.
I smiled. I should have brought my sketchbook out sooner.
I had made the trip to Vancouver last week to the Vancouver Art Gallery to be in the company of one of the greats of the Impressionists, Claude Monet. In fact, he was the father of that movement.
I was on my own, and could take all the luscious time I desired.
His early work is more realist, and traditional, and he was an astonishingly prolific painter, painting several series of the same subject in different light or seasons..
In his later stages in life Monet’s paintings became clearly abstract. And this could’ve been either a natural progression from repetitive study of the same subject matter (how far can the artist push and play with a particular subject), or the fact Monet suffered with cataracts all through his adult life. That this may have affected his work may be a moot point, but development towards abstraction in his later work was the catalyst that heralded in the next big movement- Modern Expressionism.
So I approached the exhibition with anticipation and openness, I mean The Water Lilies! Monet! I am going to see them live!
I arrive in the room of the Nymphéas and there they are. Yes! I stand at the entrance way as I take them in before focusing on each painting individually. I went to each piece moving up close to exam brush strokes, the textures of paint, movement. It was almost like touching Monet’s hand that held the brush. Then I moved way back to view it from a distance, to watch as the painting gained clarity, becoming clear and whole as the human eye takes over to fill in and blend the brush strokes to create the atmosphere, the movement and play of light, its structure and form and rich depth-and what slowly seeps to the forefront of my thoughts is “Hmmph.”
I stand several minutes. I approach one painting, closely then I fall back across the room and look again. I can’t believe that I feel underwhelmed. Is it me? Yeah, of course it is. It’s got to be, because this is a master’s work. And although I studied fine art and consider myself an artist, I wasn’t getting it. Which is the most benighted thing to say about any artists’ work.
But I stayed with them, wanting to see what I thought I was going to see. And to be clear, I was still humbled and in awe of seeing these masterpieces, I am certainly not arrogant enough to dismiss these incredible works. But I only saw muddy and flat, without atmosphere. Ok, no matter, they are Monet’s and I love that I was in the same room with them regardless of my inept, dense sensitivity. I turn and study his Japanese Bridge, and the Rose Arbors, and the Weeping Willow all painted from within his beautiful huge Giverny garden. I stand back and raise my iPhone to a painting of his Rose Arbor because of course I have to take photographs.- It’s Monet!
And as I bring the iPhone ( camera) up to my eyes a surprising thing happened. As I’m looking at the image of the painting in my iPhone that painting suddenly becomes alive. That rich depth-ness and colour, it appears. My eye goes back and forth between painting on the wall and the painting image in my iPhone and they are completely different. From flat and muddy to rich depth and color. I am amazed and confused, and after taking the photo I proceed through all the paintings looking at them through my iPhone seeing them all transformed. It was weird.
I think to myself Oh, this is how they are supposed to look. I am pulled in to the paintings like I was expecting. I did notice the lighting in my iPhone was different too as soon as I lifted it in front of the paintings, opposed to the gallery lighting. I did nothing to change anything as far as settings or flash, but it was definitely different. So there’s me walking around with my bloody iPhone in front of my face like a tech addict tourist looking at a master’s work.
Yet later when I viewed the taken photographs on my phone and then downloaded them onto my computer they reverted back to what I saw with my naked eye. Flat and kinda muddy.
No matter, I was absolutely enthralled and enraptured to be in the same room with these masterpieces. So appreciative that there is this amazing world class gallery bringing great works to my doorstep.
An aside to this moment with Monet is this painting below that was in the Vancouver show, one of Monet’s later pieces of his pond within his Giverny home garden, and which illustrates how abstract his work had become.
While researching his work online later at home I came across what I thought was a similar painting to the one painting I took a photo of at the gallery- too similar in fact but they didn’t quite match up. Same brushstrokes, colours, but couldn’t place it. Until I turned my photograph of the painting (above) upside down.
As you will notice the gallery painting I saw in Vancouver displays the little gold “Title tag” on the lower middle bottom edge of the frame, so of course this is the correct hanging. Yet every image I found online, from what I could assume were legit sites (Online/Legit Info oxymoron alert) showed the work turned the other way. As I show in the image below, by turning my photo image upside down. Both positions actually work, so I can understand the confusion.
So I called the Gallery. They said I wasn’t the first person to point this out, but that the curator has said the paintings came direct from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris which happens to have the largest collection of Monet in the world. Alrighty then. The consensus is whomever had initially put up the online image put it upside down and all other online sites merely copied it as is. Ah abstracts.
I woke and pulled back the drapes in the living room a pair of panted legs with heavy dark boots hung before me. A bridge of metal tubing crisscrossed the window.
Oh yeah, I’m not at my house. I’m in Vancouver, staying at my friends downtown condo while she’s staying in my house on Vancouver Island, we agreed on a four-day swap.
This arrangement serves us both perfectly, I am wanting some time in the city before the summer ended for a few reasons. First Claude Monet was showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery, second I have never been to UBC’c Museum of Anthropology and planned to spend a day there, and third I just wanted to soak up some big city buzz and an evening with my step-son and his wife. And my husband is away for work for the week anyway.
In exchange my friend in turn got a luscious reprieve away from her five months and counting green sheathed-scaffolded-plywood strewn-strange mens legs dangling outside the front window-exterior condo refit for some peace and quiet, a lot of trees, and the ocean. Fair trade.
I love the energy and bustle of cities, and Vancouver is one of the most beautiful. The visuals, even the noise. I wanted grit, the smells, the chaos, to see people moving in all directions, to see weird people, colour, texture. Even the anonymity of walking down a busy crowded street and no one knowing who I am is for me a kind of perverse liberation, to be alone in a crowd. To be unnoticed.
I can fill up on all the stimulation, then return to my tranquil island home where everybody has known me for thirty years. Best of both worlds.
I can certainly do day trips to Vancouver, the Departure Ferry is only a short city transit bus ride away from me. Walking onto the ferry for $16, getting off at Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver then jumping right onto their express city transit bus that, forty and so minutes later, deposits me right downtown on W. Georgia. But all in, there and back alone, eats up a solid four hours of my day in traveling.
So, to have several days to meander that beautiful city with an open agenda without expensive hotel costs – a perfect four days away.
Seeing my daughter’s belly grow awakens memories of her and I when we were both young. When I was 22 and she was newborn, when we were beginning the early years of our development. New mother, new baby. Sharp learning curve. If only I knew then what I know now. Then, I didn’t fully grasp the trajectory of my role as mother, I only knew I was a young single woman with a child. We were a pair, her and I, with a close bond.
But I was ill prepared for what I was embarking on. I worked to keep us off welfare. And it’s true in hind site only do I recognize I struggled in keeping us housed, clothed and fed without really identifying with the fact I was struggling, because I suppose I was ignorant, which perhaps I misinterpreted as being happy. A false sense of bliss? No, I believe I was happy. And things seemed to work out in a slip shod way. God looks after children and fools.
It was a bumpy ride. No doubt about that.
I do wish I had slowed down and savored that era a bit more deeply. A regret that chafes. To have fully understood and embraced my role as mother. I do wish I had had the steely determination to have focused on a career too. To be fair I did attempt, but was met with financial limitations. I just wish I had been a stronger woman, stronger mother.
But that was then and we survived. More than survived, we have thrived.
This is now. I’m going to be a grandmother in a couple of months. I’m getting used to those words, those good words, although I still feel like a twenty-something in my head. I am taking what I didn’t know then but knowing full well now to appreciate what the significance this new role, this new era of my life, will hold. I see my daughter in a different place than where I was at 22.
Maybe because she’s 36. She has a mid-wife, and a Doula, a home with a partner. More prepared than I ever was. Like a grown up. She’s a strong woman, she’ll be an excellent mother.
And I wonder is this what becoming a grandparent gifts us with? I have to say it’s not without some bittersweetness. What I would give to do over again. These saturated feelings of anticipation, excitement, joy, awareness, of bringing a human into the world. But now it’s her turn, my daughter. And I vicariously get that second chance.
I think this is what becoming a grandparent gifts us with.
I tend to garden by trial and error. I don’t get too fussy but I like to grow things and especially love having a vegetable garden. It continues to impress me that I can put this small unassuming seed into the dirt and in return will bestow pounds of food for me to eat. Incredible. Notably plants like the cucumber, chard and beans, I mean you pick and pick and it keeps forthcoming! What kind of food fountain magic is this? Makes me question this ongoing issue of global food shortages.
And to eat a home-grown tomato is still a high point of summer bliss. Ok one point. Summer has many.
Some things I plant don’t always pan out, like artichoke. I LOVE artichokes, and they’re expensive to buy so I have planted one each year but they never make it, like the one I planted this year, but I’ll try again next spring. I included Brussel Sprouts for the first time this year too, can’t wait to see how they turn out.
I have a variety of squashes, things that will keep during winter and am especially happy to finally see butternuts finally growing in my garden, another vegetable I’ve tried several times but without success. By the way, if you want the most delicious pumpkin pie, don’t use pumpkin. Use butternut. It’s transforming.
Next year I want to expand on winter crops, like kales, and chards and brussels, see how long we can eat off these humble patches of dirt.
The other night we had forgotten to close our front gate and a deer wandered through and dined heavily on the beans, but I didn’t mind- this time- I had already harvested several pounds, there was enough to share.
And deer are fickle. They never ate the potato plant. Ever. Until last year, again coming through a forgotten open gate, and literally cleared out all the potato plants to sticks. Didn’t touch a bean. I have planted potatoes for twenty-six years, and not once have they nibbled them! My three rows of potatoes this year suffered only a very light graze on a couple of plants.
In my early days of gardening here we had no fence and would lose much of the garden each year to deer before it could produce any food. I even had Hostas planted for years that I never witnessed flowering because they were continually eaten down to mere stalks, ditto for any roses, and tulips I just stopped planting them.
I have used straw to mulch these last two years and that’s helped to keep things moist enough, but I need to walk my beach and collect seaweed to add to the soil , a resource that’s readily accessible around my house, being surrounded by the sea, and super beneficial. I’ve also been reading up on No Tilling and Layer gardening to try next year. It’s a process, gardening, see what works and it’s forgiving. Good thing considering my bumbling attempts.
When I look out my window I swear I’ve time travelled back to my youth in Southern California. The time of the hot Santa Anna winds and the orange tinged choked sky from the burning Laguna canyon that would hang over us for days. The time of fuming freeways yellowing the horizon. News channel says our Vancouver air quality this last week is worse than Beijing. My eyes are burning.
When the sun rises it rises as a red orb. When high noon a pale yellow smudge. When it sets it’s a red orb again. The sunshine coast across the Salish sea has disappeared, along with the other gulf islands out there. Even the trees down the road seem as though they stand behind a gauzy curtain.
The Province has been and still is on fire. Again. Last year it was the same scenario, except Vancouver Island was also among the stricken. This year we’ve been spared- so far. There have been a couple of tiny fires along the highways grassy meridians that were extinguished before they got out of hand, leaving large black swaths in their wake, and you know full well that was caused by an idiots tossed cigarette.
My heart goes out to the thousands evacuated knowing they will be losing their possessions to the flames. And I can imagine the jubilant relief of those that were allowed back to their intact homes when danger passed. Like the guy from Williams Lake who was so happy to return home from an evacuation that he got drunk and shot off fireworks.
The crashing aftermath of an empty, quiet house since our July company departed resonates with a small shush. Bob and I reclaim our space like water spreading back into cracks and crevices. A tiny empty nest sensation pervades, but more the satisfaction of time well spent with these family members from Ontario over the last twenty days. Ten days with my brother-in-law Dan, then a three day turn around before my step daughter Crystal and her cousin Melanie arrived for ten days. We packed on the kilometres showing all of them our beautiful west coast island home.
We covered as much as we could cram in to make their trip memorable, driving out to Long Beach on the Pacific Rim, walking across the Kinsol Trestle,in Shawnigan, Sail boating on our little Auklet, backyard BBQ’s. We did Alpine walks in Paradise Meadows at Mount Washington along with a ride up that mountain on the ski lift. We swam in the Nanaimo river, took in the Sand Sculptures in Parksville, and the weekend blast of our cities Bathtub Race. We took them on the tiny Mill Bay ferry over to Buchart’s Garden in Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula and a tour through the capital city Victoria.
Ah, Victoria yes, walking the historic downtown with Bob and his brother Dan, pointing out the architecture, when what I thought was a gush of water from an overhead flower box -Victoria is known for its flowers-was in fact the faecal bombing of a passing seagull. Oh yes, the splat landing square on top of my head. Feel the seeping into the hair if you will. In all my years living along the ocean with seagulls wheeling overhead have I ever had such a magnificent soaking. This prompted an immediate return to our motel, driving with all windows down because the high piercing reek of rotten fish permeating the car, and a jump into the shower.
I handled it well. Laughed, didn’t lose my cool. I took it as an omen of good fortune. Ya. (wait it has to be a bald eagle I think…)
Then there was the exhilarating drive following the dictates of our Google Maps when searching for the quickest route back from the Saanich Peninsula to Mill Bay, rather than taking the tiny ferry back across the inlet or driving back through Victoria and over the Malahat. Google guided us around Mount Finlayson on its thin roads with hairpin turns until at last depositing us down into Goldstream Provincial Park . Close enough.
We were good hosts and ambassadors to our guests and had a ton of fun being tourists ourselves in our own backyard. Bob and I promising ourselves we need to continue exploring this big island for ourselves instead of waiting for company to come.